Technical Editing: Boosting Clarity & Accuracy in 2023

Technical Editing Defined and Clarified

Technical editing plays a crucial role in refining and perfecting written content, particularly when dealing with specialized or technical documentation. It encompasses a comprehensive review of a text, ensuring that it not only adheres to proper grammar rules but also conveys accurate and easily understandable information.

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A technical editor, who possesses a strong background in a specific field such as engineering or science, combines their expertise in the subject matter with a deep understanding of grammar and the writing process.

The primary focus of technical editing is to guarantee the accuracy and clarity of the information presented in the text. While technical editors will often revise text for style, grammar, and punctuation, their main focus is on ensuring the information is accurate and easy to understand. Attention to detail is of utmost importance, as technical editors meticulously verify calculations, in-text citations, and references for correctness.

In addition to editing an author’s work, technical editors also function as technical writers themselves. As a technical writer, the editor works closely with the subject matter expert to develop new content and create new illustrations, diagrams, or tables that help the reader quickly grasp the necessary information in the text. In many cases, technical writers/editors work with subject matter experts to write introductions, abstracts, or other parts of a document.

Technical editing can be a very complex and challenging task with many responsibilities. However, incorporating a technical editor on your team is essential for ensuring the quality of technical documentation. These experts play a pivotal role in effectively communicating complex ideas to readers, ensuring accuracy, and facilitating understanding.

A Technical Editor’s Knowledge and Experience

The formal education of technical editors can vary greatly, encompassing diverse backgrounds and qualifications. Some possess degrees in technical communication, while others hold degrees in English, writing, or journalism. Others may have a science degree supplemented with writing or technical editing courses.

At our company, we recognize that scientists and those with a background in English have very different but equally valuable skills. That’s why we assign two editors on every project: a scientist and an editor with an English degree. Together, they perform the different levels of editing, which are detailed below.

Levels of Technical Editing

Technical editors undertake three levels of editing:

  1. Substantive edit
  2. Copyedit
  3. Proofread

Substantive Edit

A substantive edit is a comprehensive edit that assesses the content of a text and makes suggestions for improving its clarity, organization, and accuracy. The technical editor will often revise the text heavily, rewriting sentences and paragraphs to improve the overall flow of the text. In addition, the technical editor will offer suggestions for adding or deleting information, as well as suggest ways to rearrange the text to improve its clarity and organization. You can expect a substantive edit to verify the following:

  • Technical content is complete, accurate, and understandable to the intended audience.
  • Text makes sense and flows well; none is missing and none is repeated.
  • No ambiguity, faulty logic, factual errors, inconsistencies, or poor examples are used
  • The document is organized and structured clearly; each section contains a purpose and supports it with accurate and consistent information.
  • No outdated content or content that does not adhere to the intent of the document is present
  • Paragraphs have a logical line of thought with an effective beginning, middle, and end
  • The sequence of topics is logical and effective
  • Effective transitions are used
  • Headings accurately reflect the content they introduce
  • Simple math in tables is correct


A copyedit is a less comprehensive edit that focuses on improving the grammar, punctuation, and style of a document. The copyeditor will often make suggestions for improving sentence structure and word choice, as well as offer suggestions for correcting any errors in grammar or punctuation.

A copyeditor will address the following:

  • Spelling and capitalization are correct and consistent
  • Subjects and verbs agree
  • Verbs are in the correct tense
  • Pronouns agree with their antecedents and are in the correct case
  • Modifiers are placed to keep meanings clear
  • Passive voice is eliminated, if possible
  • Punctuation is not missing, duplicated, or misplaced
  • Serial commas, if used, are consistent
  • Dashes, hyphens, parentheses, brackets, and quotation marks are used correctly and spaced consistently
  • Numbers are treated consistently
  • Lists are parallel in structure
  • Acronyms, initialisms, and scientific names are defined
  • Italics and other special fonts are used consistently


A proofread is a final check of a text for any remaining errors. The proofreader will ensure that all illustrations, tables, figures, and other graphics are correctly placed and properly called out in the text. Proofreading also involves checking the text for any formatting errors, such as incorrect page numbers or widows and orphans.

You can expect your editor to verify the following during a proofread:

  • All front/back matter is present and accurately reflects the rest of the document
  • Typeface, spacing, and placement of table and figure titles and text are consistent
  • Headings for multipage tables and figures are present
  • Placement of tables and figures is consistent
  • Bullet styles and numeral typeface consistent
  • Typeface, spacing, and placement of page numbers, headers, and footers are consistent
  • White space and overall spacing are appropriate
  • Paragraphs, lists, tables, and figures break across pages appropriately

Tips for Effective Collaboration with a Technical Editor

Establishing clear communication is crucial when working with a technical editor. To facilitate the process, we have our clients complete a “Level of Effort” form that clarifies what they expect from us and describes the editing process. If your editor does not have a similar form, use the guidance below as to help clarify expectations.

Choose a Style Guide

Numerous style guides are available, and they can vary greatly from one another. Inform your technical editor of your preferred style guide or ask for their recommendation. Some commonly used style guides include the American Medical Association Style, Chicago Manual of Style, and Council of Science Editors.

Agree on a Level of Edit

As noted above, editing encompasses several levels, from a basic proofread to a more comprehensive substantive edit. Determining the level of editing that you want (and expect) is vital before working with your technical editor. Having clear understanding will ensure you and your editor are on the same page and will ensure the process is as efficient as possible. Remember, a substantive edit takes longer than a copyedit, so you should only pay for the level of editing you truly require.

Decide Which Edits Should be Tracked

Word processing applications allow editors to track the changes they make. Deletions will be struck out, insertions will be underlined. Editors can also insert comments asking the authors to clarify certain points.

When working with your technical editor, decide how you would like these changes to be tracked. In some cases, having the editor track all changes could be helpful; in others, only major changes should be tracked.

Monitoring the “change tracking” feature as your technical editor works will help you understand their process and learn from their edits. As you review their tracked changes, take the time to consider why they made each edit and whether or not you agree with the change. This attention to detail will help you develop a better understanding of editing in general and of your own writing style.

At our company, we tend to track most, if not all, edits when working with new clients. As trust develops and we gauge their tolerance for edits, we collaborate to determine which changes can be made without their explicit approval. Clients often request tracking for substantive changes while allowing copyedits and proofreading to be implemented without review.

Be Clear about Deadlines

Setting clear deadlines from the start is essential. Agreeing on a schedule helps your technical editor plan their workload and ensures they can meet your project’s requirements.

However, it’s equally important to adhere to the agreed-upon schedule and avoid making last-minute changes or additions, as these changes can prolong the editing process, delay project completion, and increase your costs.

Review the Software and File Transfer Process

Discuss your preferred word processing program with your technical editor. Determine whether you will be using Microsoft Word or Google Docs to deliver documents.

If you are using Word, how will you transfer documents to your editor, and how do you expect your documents to be returned to you? Will you be sending your documents to your editor via email, or will you be giving your editor access to a cloud storage site? Asking these questions upfront will help avoid potential frustration later.

Clarify the Rounds of Editing Included

Finally, it is important to know how many times your editor will review your document and any edits you make.

Our process when editing technical documents is to complete all levels of edit before returning a document to the author. We then ask the author to accept or decline all tracked changes and to respond to our electric comments.

If an electronic comment asks the author a direct question, they should respond back in a comment. If the electronic comment asks the author to fix an error in their text, such as reconciling numbers that don’t match, they should fix the error and then delete the comment.

Once a document has completed all levels of edit, we send it back to the author for a final review before it is considered “done.”

This process may vary depending on your editor, but it is important to understand their process and what you can expect at each step.

Maximizing Your Relationship with Your Technical Editor

A technical editor is a highly trained individual whose goal is to improve your writing. A good relationship with your editor can save you time, make the process more enjoyable, and save you money. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your relationship with your technical editor. 

Be Open to Feedback

Technical editing can help you see where your writing is unclear or unnecessarily complex. However, it can be easy to get defensive when someone points out errors in your work. Try to remember their feedback is not meant to be taken personally. Editors love an error-free, easy-to-read final product, and their goal is to help your writing be the best it can be. A good editor will not try to change your voice or style. Instead, they will try to help you communicate more effectively. 

Be Proactive

Be proactive about addressing concerns, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are unsure about a recommended edit, ask for clarification. And if you disagree with a suggested change, explain why or ask the technical editor why he or she recommended the change. Remember, the goal for both of you is to produce the best possible final product.

Be Patient

Finally, keep in mind that developing a good working relationship with your technical editor can take time. While a new editor might be familiar with your industry or topic, he or she isn’t familiar with your writing style or how comfortable you are (or aren’t) with having your work edited.

And, just like a technical editing can take time, it can take time for you to trust your editor. But, if you are patient, the investment will pay off in the form of better writing. And, once you’ve established a relationship, you may even find the writing process becoming easier since you know you have a fantastic editor who will massage your writing into the best version possible.

Benefits of Outsourcing Technical Editing Services

Outsourcing technical editing services can bring numerous advantages to organizations, whether they are small businesses or large corporations. By entrusting technical editing tasks to specialized external providers, companies can optimize their resources, improve the quality of their documents, and gain access to expert knowledge and skills. In this section, we will explore the benefits of outsourcing technical editing services in more detail.

Resource Optimization and Time Savings

One of the key benefits of outsourcing technical editing is the optimization of resources and time savings. By delegating editing tasks to external professionals, companies can focus their internal resources on core activities, such as product development, research, or client management. Outsourcing eliminates the need to allocate valuable staff members to editing duties, enabling them to concentrate on their specialized roles and responsibilities. Moreover, outsourcing technical editing ensures that the editing process is performed efficiently and within designated timelines, allowing organizations to meet project deadlines effectively.

Access to Expert Knowledge and Skills

Outsourcing provides access to a pool of experts with specialized knowledge and skills. These professionals possess a deep understanding of various industries and subject matters, allowing them to effectively handle documentation across diverse fields. By leveraging their expertise, organizations can ensure that their documents undergo meticulous review and enhancement. Technical editors proficient in specific domains possess an in-depth comprehension of the subject, enabling them to refine technical terminology, ensure accuracy, and improve the overall readability of the content. Accessing this level of expertise can significantly enhance the quality and impact of the edited documents.

Quality Assurance and Consistency

Outsourcing technical editing services introduces an additional layer of quality assurance to the technical writing process. Professional editors often have established quality control procedures and rigorous editorial standards. These processes ensure that the levels of edit meet the highest standards of accuracy, clarity, and consistency. By engaging external experts, organizations can obtain unbiased and thorough reviews of their technical writing, which may lead to improved document quality, reduced errors, and enhanced overall professionalism.

Cost-Effectiveness and Scalability

Outsourcing can be a cost-effective solution for organizations, particularly for those with fluctuating editing needs. Instead of maintaining an in-house team that requires continuous training, supervision, and infrastructure, outsourcing allows organizations to access these services on-demand. This scalable approach enables businesses to adjust their editing requirements based on project demands, thereby optimizing costs and ensuring optimal resource allocation.


Technical editing is a crucial step in ensuring the clarity and accuracy of written content, especially when dealing with complex technical writing. Technical editors play a vital role in refining texts, making them more comprehensible and error-free. By collaborating effectively with a technical editor, you can enhance the quality of your technical communication and deliver impactful content to your audience.

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